Fresh from hastily scheduled trips to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, John Kerry begins the week in Cairo, where the Secretary of State hopes to get more countries onside with efforts to fight Islamic State extremists. In case Kerry doesn’t get his fill of truculence, skepticism and outright intransigence overseas, he has a backup plan: he’s returning to Washington to testify Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The President will be in Atlanta Tuesday for a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he’ll receive a detailed briefing on both the West African Ebola epidemic and the enterovirus-related respiratory disease outbreak in the US Midwest. The visit comes several days after a direct appeal for US assistance from Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Watch for Republican demands this week that both viruses be bombed into submission and the operation paid for with a Social Security benefits clawback.
Thursday, Scots go to the polls for a historic vote on independence from the United Kingdom. Well over four million people have registered to vote, while another 800,000 or so have signed up to vote by mail. That represents roughly 97% of eligible voters, a percentage the Democratic and Republican Parties alike can only view wistfully just weeks ahead of the typically anemic midterm electoral turnout stateside. Recent polls suggest momentum building for the “No” faction, but it’s likely to be close whichever way it goes.
Wednesday, the House Select Committee on Benghazi holds its, uh, long-awaited first hearing. Think they’ll discuss the August 1 report by the House Intelligence Committee, which found absolutely zero malfeasance by the Obama Administration? Neither do I.
Timed to coincide with a UN summit on climate change, a huge march in Manhattan is planned for Sunday. Organizers of the People’s Climate March are aiming for a turnout of 100,000 or more. The following day, the sixth annual Climate Week NYC gets underway, with scores of events planned around the city. The climate may be screwed, but I hope at least the weather is nice for the march.
On a related note, new efficiency standards for refrigerators begin Monday, amid cheerful forecasts by the Department of Energy that post-regulation models will use about 25% less electricity than existing models, with a projected 30-year savings to consumers of $36 billion. No word yet on whether the new models can be readily converted into seaworthy craft to deal with rising ocean levels. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/15/14
Tomorrow, Virginians choose one of milquetoast Clintonista Terry McAuliffe or Tobacco Belt Taliban Ken Cuccinelli to succeed Bob McDonnell in the Executive Mansion. The Democrat’s lead in the polls still holds, though a low projected voter turnout suggests Cuccinelli could pull off an upset with a sufficiently large turnout of irate Teabaggers and/or plain old Republican electoral tampering. Two Obamas, two Clintons and a Biden have been campaigning on McAuliffe’s behalf, while Cuccinelli’s audiences have, deservedly, been talked at by the likes of Marco Rubio, Reince Priebus, Rick Santorum, the Duggars and Rand Paul.
Speaking of Rand Paul, expect more fun this week centering on his weakness for “borrowing” words and ideas without attribution or shame. If a few more examples of the Senator’s plagiarism turn up, he could be forced to issue a major “clarifying” statement to try and muddy the waters. If it comes to that, I hereby offer him a preliminary draft that he’s welcome to pass off as his own: “I am not a crook and I have not yet begun to fight, or to remember the Maine. It’s been the best of times, it’s been the worst of times, it’s been a date which will live in infamy, but I have nothing to fear but fear itself and I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. Now, watch this drive and read my lips: no new taxes. For the rich, anyway. Ask not what your country can do for you, but what it can do for me. So long, and thanks for all the fish, and good night and good luck, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are. Oh, and would somebody please tear down this wall?”
Voters in 11 Colorado counties get a chance to weigh in tomorrow on whether they want to secede from the state. One of these rural (meaning Republican) counties would supposedly become part of Wyoming, while the other 10 would form a new state called North Colorado or Brigadoon or something.
Chris Christie is the odds-on favorite to win another gubernatorial term in New Jersey tomorrow, so certain of victory that he spent part of Saturday afternoon indulging in one of his favorite activities, publicly belittling a constituent. Christie wagged his finger in the face of teacher Melissa Tomlinson, who says he told her, “I’m tired of you people.” A Christie staffer later disputed the quote, so you just know Tomlinson described it accurately. Once safely sworn in for another term, Christie will immediately forget about New Jersey and turn his attention to a presidential run.
Boston’s mayoral election is also happening tomorrow, with last-minute polls still showing a tight race between Democrats Martin Walsh and John Connolly, and a significant number of voters still undecided. New York City, by contrast, will shock nobody by electing Bill de Blasio to succeed Michael Bloomberg; a poll released this morning shows the Democrat leading GOP opponent Joe Lhota by 41 points. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 11/4/13
ONE: Death Becomes Them
Via The Hill, I recently discovered political scientist Eric Ostermeier’s fascinating curio cabinet of a blog, Smart Politics, published by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Among other topics, Dr. Ostermeier has recently scrutinized websites for House campaigns (nine incumbent House members did not have an active campaign website as of August 18), traced the historical arc of African-Americans elected to Congress (25 states have yet to elect their first black Representative, and nearly half of the African-Americans ever elected to the House were from a mere five states), tallied living former Senators (167, a whopping eight of them from Minnesota), and surveyed Spanish language content on official House websites (the sites of 36 Congressfolks, 31 of them Democrats, feature some).
Dr. Ostermeier is now three installments into a series focusing on “unusual deaths that have befallen members of Congress.” Given current Congressional approval ratings, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that “Unusual Exits” is among the year’s most popular political writing; if it isn’t, it should be. The newest installment looks at drowning, which has claimed 13 members of the Senate and House since 1808, although only two were in office at the time of their deaths. This follows on part 1, which looked at Congressional deaths “on or by railroads” (death toll 23), and part 2, which examined deaths by “accidental gunshots” (body count 6).
It’s lucky for House Republicans that blatant, bare-assed hypocrisy isn’t fatal. Take Colorado’s Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, who were quick to add their signatures to an emergency funding request by their state delegation following Colorado’s calamitous flooding. Back in July, the quartet endorsed a similar petition for a federal major disaster declaration after a rash of wildfires. What’s wrong with that? Nothing at all, except that the same four Representatives voted against disaster relief money for areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. For added context, ThinkProgress helpfully notes that they’re all climate change denialists.
TWO: Squeaker of the House
John Boehner, crime boss of these and other Republicans in the People’s House, just vomited up some hypocrisy of his own with a web commercial that asks the musical question: “Why is the Obama Administration willing to negotiate with Putin on Syria… but not with Congress to address Washington’s spending problem?”
Since you asked, Mr. Speaker, I have a few guesses. Maybe it’s because the civil war in Syria has ominous regional implications, and the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime violates an accord ratified by 189 nations, and soon by Syria. Or it could be because Congressional Republicans haven’t negotiated anything in good faith with the Executive Branch since Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Or perhaps it’s because the only spending problem in Washington (other than the perpetually ludicrous defense budget) is your party’s refusal to strengthen the recovery with further stimulus, adequate SNAP and unemployment benefits, and a federal minimum wage at least tenuously connected to reality. You know what? Let’s make it all of the above.
THREE: China Syndrome
You might recall a story from late August about a million cockroaches escaping from a farm in Dafeng, China. As loathsome as roaches are, I can’t begrudge them their instincts here, since they were being bred as an ingredient for traditional medicines. Besides, the escape wasn’t even their idea; the greenhouse where they were housed was compromised by a person or persons unknown, and the roaches did what came naturally, and scattered.
I didn’t really give the item a second thought until I read a National Journal story about a terrifying encounter in the basement of the White House press offices with a roach described by political scientist Martha Joynt Kumar as “the size of a small drone.”
Wait. Could the Dafeng “escape” have been faked? Could the White House incident be a beachhead for some sort of Red Dawn-style insectile assault? Could the press office cockroach have actually been a drone? Well, no, of course not, but the need for vigilance has never been greater. Mere days after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved Shuanghui International’s $4.7 billion purchase of US pork producer Smithfield Foods, Chinese authorities seized roughly 45,000 pounds of fake beef from a factory in Xi-an:
The pork was treated with chemicals, including paraffin wax and industrial salts, to make it look like beef…
The news will come as [of] particular concern to Xi’an’s large Muslim community, who may have been buying some distinctly non-halal beef.
Hedge fund Starboard Value, which owns 5.7 percent of Smithfield, had been working on an alternative buyout offer since early summer, but has abandoned the effort and will back the Chinese deal at a shareholder vote on Tuesday, knocking down one of the last remaining hurdles to completion of the transaction. Nobody brings home the bacon like Shuanghui International, even if they have to disguise it as flank steak. Continue reading Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)
One of my favorite diseases—and I say favorite because it has a great moral associated with its diagnosis—is an old, discredited but useful look at how the views of power filtered down to popular medicine, a disease named drapetomonia. Ever hear of it? It was one of the first illnesses to have a very clear ethnic identity—it only affected blacks. It was also one of the first specific mental health diagnoses. Declared an epidemic among its target population, shortly after being discovered by a Georgian physician in 1851, its treatment protocols involved harsh whippings and restraints in chains.
Today, it is one of the few discredited diseases reemerging as one of the false equivalencies that increasingly characterize American views of politics–and global warming, evolution, education, economic growth, race, and religion. I see a new strain of the disease emerging, and clearly we have no cure, or even treatment or care for it.
My old favorite, drapetomonia, was a response to a social condition, slavery, and was diagnosed as the condition that made slaves run away. Flee toward freedom. Hide in the woods, outside of civil authority, living in a place of fear. The new equivalency has jumped the old ethnic bounds. But it sees itself as flying toward freedom. Leaving behind civil authority—and also living in a place of fear. The new strain is tied to the older drapetomonia by its implied inability to accept reality, but it is characterized by far greater frequencies of delusions. The old and the new, the up and the down have been with us since the beginning. As the poet W. H. Auden said, “the situation of our time surrounds us like a baffling crime.” But this new strain forgets why the old strain was discredited, lost its potency and went bust: it described a wrong reality; it was a projection of its own delusions.
So, too, today, in the new, unnamed strain is the double circle of logic whose answers assume the truth of its assertions. My favorite example this week was a radio interview with Virginia’s Attorney General, whose radio host pointed out that the President did not win the red states where a photo ID law was in place or early voting was drastically restricted, and the wins and loses of those states alone were sufficient to point to clear evidence of a pattern of widespread Democratic fraud being rampant throughout the country. Well, Barack Obama didn’t win those same red states last time either, in 2008, before restrictions of early voting or photo ID laws were enacted. And he won all of the states he won before, without a single reputable complaint of fraud, except in the mouths of talk show hosts and elected officials whose delusions are a double circle. Continue reading An Epidemic of Untreatable Illogic